For a long time, the Portland Trail Blazers did not seem like the most well-run organization. On and off the court, stagnating performance magnified the issues of overinflated salaries, player character issues and head coaching changes.
Then, in 2012 Paul Allen hired both Neil Olshey and Chris McGowan away from the Los Angeles market to revamp his franchise. McGowan's arrival in Portland signified coming changes to the business plan of the team, reducing duplicate services, forging new direction and trying to turn a profit. Olshey's hiring of Stotts two months later was much in the same vein, as the former Bucks and Hawks head coach was fresh off four years under Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle as an assistant with a championship ring in his back pocket.
That's not to say there weren't some doubts about the product from Oklahoma University. Stotts' head coaching record was an unimpressive 115–168 at the time of his hiring, and many around Portland asked the simple question of, "Who?" when his name tumbled into local papers in the summer of 2012.
Looking at the rosters and history of his teams, the picture became clearer. Stotts was the head coach for two years of the Jason Terry-led Hawks, and got just one year in Milwaukee of a fully-healthy Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut where the Bucks did indeed make the playoffs. Stotts' coaching record wasn't great, but the talent on his rosters were even worse. With some success in Milwaukee and the pedigree of working under Carlisle, Olshey's decision to go with Stotts in 2012 doesn't seem like such a stretch in hindsight.
Two years into the Stotts regime, it's been all uphill. In his first year, Stotts' offense saw Damian Lillard vault into a Rookie of the Year campaign. An end-of-year collapse kept them out of the playoffs, much to their benefit the following year. With their high draft pick in C.J. McCollum and second-round swap for Robin Lopez, Portland's 2013-2014 season went remarkably better.
For the first time in 14 years, the Blazers not only reached the playoffs, but moved on to the second round. A thrilling first round matchup with the Houston Rockets gave even the freshest faces -- and there are many on this Portland roster -- playoff experience. The Trail Blazers exceeded expectations, and with it, Stotts found his way to a payday in May.
But despite all this success, nothing in the NBA is guaranteed. Next season, the Blazers could find a way to stagnate or even regress. Young players might not develop, and in a tough Western Conference and rising teams abound, missing the playoffs is a very real possibility. So, too, is getting even better.
That's why Stotts' extension seems so reasonable in the face of the mammoth deals handed out the last few months to Derek Fisher in New York and Steve Kerr in Golden State, who are both on reported deals lasting five years for $25 million. It's entirely possible that Stotts' extension makes him upwards of $5 million per season, as the terms of the deal were not disclosed. But length? Length is the key.
Portland's whole strategy for the last two years has been about efficiency. Neither Kerr nor Fisher has ever been the head coach of an NBA team, and the gamble by both franchises is a telling sign of the market for teams pining for a championship. Paying out a gargantuan sum to two coaches without any experience necessitates complete success, lest the Knicks or Warriors get caught dissolving their relationship three years in with an embarrassing price tag left to pay a coach no longer sitting on the bench.
For Olshey, grabbing Stotts through 2017 looks more and more like one of the best head coaching moves in the NBA. Portland isn't trapped if things go south, and if Stotts can improve the Blazers have him as a fractional bargain for another three seasons until they have to pay him for his successes.
Either way, we get to listen to him rap while hiking.
For a franchise that's had its fair share of leaps, it's got to be comforting for fans in Rip City that for once, it was their team making the smart decision when it came to money. Stotts is an on-court example of the plan laid out by Olshey and McGowan for the post-Brandon Roy era in Portland. Now, it's time to see if that plan pays off.
At market value, of course.